Nora N. Khan

Quarter One Report

Quarter one is nearly over! It’s been a brutal winter here: the kind of winter that flattens out your mental landscape and renders you incapable of speaking about anything but snow and ice and roofs and frozen windows and things. Trapped inside, I felt acutely how enmeshed I am in the world of things. I had a 45-minute conversation over dinner with two friends about snowmobiles.

Six weeks of non-stop blizzards produced eight-foot high blocks of snow. The ancient, rusty transportation system here shut down. Scenes of commuters getting off the train in the blizzard to walk along the tracks to the next stop resembled footage from World War One. Cabin fever forced people to dive off their balconies. It got weird.

Not seeing a lot of people in the dead of winter means that your dreaming isn’t often about people. My dreams turned completely to beautiful objects, bots, boids, all manner of -borgs. I dreamt and read about superintelligence and what that can look like, and about the inner lives of things. Bliss! I also read a lot about how networks and algorithms and bots might take our job, my job, meaning all of us scribblers have to up our game. I don’t want my writing to be interchangeable with a bot’s.

A lot of dreaming was done with others in the cloud. Dreaming was prompted by exchanges with interesting thinkers, trying to see the world from new vantage points. For instance: I met several women who want to go to this submarine cable conference in Dubai. I met lots of scholars and writers invested in new materialism, in concrete manifestations of the digital, and in the political and ethical demands of creating these infrastructures.

Now for fiscal results. What work comes of dreaming? A lot! (#ThisIsRealWorkMom)

Over the past weeks, I’ve started in on writing some shorter pieces for Rhizome. The most recent is about the emoji known as Business Fish, and what this set says about the management of emotional capital. It got mentions from Repeater Books and University of Chicago Press. It is also, egads, one of my most shared pieces, so I think I have found a calling: writing about dystopian stickers.

In February, I wrote this essay titled Deep Mining; Deep Time, for New Criticals. It is a review of The Anthrobscene by Finnish media scholar and theorist Jussi Parikka. His writing and thinking are seriously intense and overwhelmingly brilliant. Thanks to Tamsyn Gilbert, who is the editor of New Criticals, for this space. [Update: It is now included in the official press clips section of the University of Minnesota Press site.]

That month, I spoke at a salon at EMW Bookstore in Cambridge for their Drink Salon on Tech and Ethics. The theme was Love & Relationships, and I spoke with Jackie Wang, a poet and scholar and writer for Semiotext(e), and Christine An – also known as Gregor Spamsa – my favorite wit, comedienne and life strategist. The title of my talk was ‘If You Want to Marry an Onyx Cube but It’s Not Legal in Your State (Yet).’ The subject was objectophilia and what we learn about people who fall in love with objects.

Error, Redacted is an essay I wrote last fall for the New Haven Review. This essay is about failure, wrong turns and mistakes, and how messing up is necessary for good art. It is part of NHR‘s recently released winter issue. Brian Slattery did an amazing job editing it; he was one of my first guides into the small but lovely literary scene in the ol’ Haven.

In January, Nozomu Matsumoto and Nile Koetting of Tokyo-based online sound gallery EBM (T) sought a review of 85 CE 86 EE 4B B1 72 9B 0A AD 15 46 47 33 2C 30 by TCF (Mr. Lars Holdhus). With Alexander Iadarola (The Quietus, FADER) and Laura Greig, I wrote this essay, Flocking Behavior, for Rhizomeit is about boids and the lives of objects. These are ideas and images that Lars’ sound work explores & manifests beautifully.

The collaborative process, conducted over the Net, is so interesting! It takes a lot of focus, energy and managerial control. We would like to see a program that can track the unfolding and collapsing comment threads. The comments had as much, if not the bulk, of the thinking work that went into the final.

My year started off in New York, writing the outline of a short piece of fiction for an exhibit, Sixth Sense, held at Minibar Artistspace in Stockholm, Sweden. I wrote about a woman with thermal, ultrasonic and other odd electromagnetic implants. Here is the pamphlet that accompanied the show.

The show, curated by Anna Sagström and Matilda Tjäder, hosted artwork that explored the idea of senses outside of the traditional five. The fiction and essays in the pamphlet are fascinating. Ryan Kuo, my former editor at Kill Screen, is in there. A happy coincidence of reviewing his work on nostalgia for rave culture here.

What’s really interesting about writing for a show that you haven’t visited, and might not get a chance to, is this element of remove. I learn about most everything at a remove: reading about the the thing, looking at pictures of it, hearing of it from others. Here are pictures of the space with the pamphlet. Through this show, I learned about video artist Sasha Litvintseva, who showed her beautiful work Immortality, Home and Elsewhere.

On to Quarter Two.